Mike Rann: What States Can Do - Part VII: Plant forests

24 July 2012

Hon. Mike Rann, Former President of South Australia, Clean Revolution Ambassador and CNP Fellow for Democracy and Development blogs about The Climate Group's 1 Billion Trees Initiave, as part of his series of posts for CNP

Last month at The Climate Group's States and Regions Summit in Rio de Janeiro, a significant milestone was reached. Members comprising sub-national governments from around the world announced firm commitments to grow more than 500 million additional trees by 2015.

This result was two and a half years in the making. At our Climate Leaders Summit held in December 2009, as part of the UN's COP15 meeting, we called on world leaders gathering in Copenhagen - including President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao - to commit to planting 7 billion trees - one tree for every person on the planet.

They didn't heed our call for a forestry 'endowment' from Copenhagen. So I proposed that we, at the state and regional level, should again lead the way by committing to plant 1 billion trees ourselves by the same target date. The move, strongly supported at the meeting by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, was endorsed unanimously by all leaders and ministers present.

Quebec and Scotland led the charge with a commitment to each plant 100 million trees by 2015. Both of these pledges are being delivered. Many other governments have joined the campaign including Aragon, Catalonia, Manitoba, Ontario, North Rhine Westphalia, Poitou Charentes, South Australia and Wales.

Under our 1 Billion Tree Initiative only plantings that would not have otherwise occurred are counted. Normal forestry operations and reafforestation projects already announced are not included in the tally.

At Rio I was delighted that Member States and Regions have now passed the halfway point in reaching our 1 Billion Trees target, with a combination of new planting commitments or increases to their original pledges.

A number of new members making commitments included the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, the French island region of La Reunion and KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Sao Paulo announced that it would add 200 million trees by 2015 through native forest restoration in its own territory – ensuring both climate protection and biodiversity. This commitment comprises one fifth of the total 1 billion target and Sao Paulo has also announced it will build on this pledge with another 200 million trees by 2020.

One of the delights of our conference was hearing about KwaZulu Natal's plans to plant a fruit tree for every child in homes and schools.

At Rio, South Australian Environment Minister Paul Caica, representing the driest state on the driest continent, announced an additional commitment of 6.7 million trees to bring his state's total to 7.9 million trees.

Reafforestation projects need not only occur in rural areas. Greening programs in cities such as New York are gaining strong public and political support.

Back in 2003, as Premier of South Australia, I established our Urban Forest Program which aimed to plant 1 million native trees and shrubs across the Adelaide metropolitan area in a series of urban forests. This target, to help further green our city, was achieved in 2006 with the help of local government, schools, industry and volunteers.

We extended the program, increased the State Government's funding and raised our target to plant 3 million native trees and plants by 2014 across 300 project sites, ranging from large habitat restoration projects to smaller amenity gardens and local biodiversity projects. More than ten thousand people have participated including thousands of children and adults who have attended well publicised community planting days. We are delighted that twenty one local government councils have partnered with the State Government to improve our capital city.

The program aims to restore around 2,000 hectares of native vegetation using suitable areas of public open space including parks, reserves, transport corridors, schools, water courses, coastline and council land.

We believe our Urban Forest Program will result in a more beautiful, cooler and more liveable city. It will improve air and water quality and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 600,000 tons of CO2 equivalents. There is also a very strong educational component designed to raise the community's environmental awareness and actively involve people through workshops, talks, plantings and school projects.

Significantly, our Urban Forests Program is also creating and conserving habitat for precious wildlife. A report published in 2001 revealed that 97.3% of Adelaide's original vegetation has been cleared since European settlement in 1836. Land clearance and urban development had impacted significantly on native flora and fauna, with many species now locally extinct or threatened. So our program is also about preventing species loss.

Only indigenous trees and shrubs, native to the local area, are planted. Not only is this about ensuring that the genetic integrity of our native flora is preserved but it also helps reduce water use. Exotic or imported plants often require greater watering and support to survive our searing hot and dry summers.

After my return from Rio, I phoned Paul Caica's office to enquire about progress. I was pleased to learn that the program was on track to reach the 3 million target on time with 2,370,000 trees and shrubs already planted. The three inaugural winners of The Climate Group's Climate Change Leadership Award – Schwarzenegger, Charest and Salmond – will all have mini urban forests in Adelaide bearing their names. There is already one named after veteran Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki, who has inspired me over the decades.

I hope states and cities in the around the world will join us in similar urban forest campaigns.

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